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Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  247 ratings  ·  45 reviews
The 2014 Ebola epidemic demonstrated the power of pandemics and their ability not only to destroy lives locally but also to capture the imagination and terrify the world. Christian W. McMillen provides a concise yet comprehensive account of pandemics throughout human history, illustrating how pandemic disease has shaped history and, at the same time, social behavior has in ...more
Paperback, 153 pages
Published December 1st 2016 by Oxford University Press, USA
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Petra X home again home again jiggety jig
What is a pandemic? The criteria for an outbreak of a disease to be defined as a pandemic are that it should be distributed over a wide area, that it should be extremely contagious - as it travels from one person to another, most people are infected as there is minimal immunity and it should be an extremely severe disease with major mortality. If it is limited in area, it is an epidemic. If it is limited in both area and numbers of people affected, it is an outbreak.

The book details the major pa
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
A solid, accessible introduction to pandemics in world history, with a case study of seven major pandemic diseases: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, TB, flu, and HIV/AIDS. Christian McMillen does a good job of using each case study to illuminate a different aspect of how pandemics spread, with the discussion of failures in public health/governmental responses to malaria and HIV/AIDS perhaps the most illuminating in the present moment.

Reading the epilogue (written in 2016), which in just a fe
Seema Singh
Nov 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great read. Very relevant due to current Covid 19 situation. It's more of a historical overview but touches on the political & socio economic effects of past pandemics ...more
Jackson Cyril
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick, but important look at a phenomenon that should be given more attention to (as it has killed, and continues to kill, large numbers of people). McMillen surveys a few important diseases (Influenza, AIDS/HIV, Cholera etc), moving on to chronicling the history of treating these diseases in the past, and ends with our current responses to these diseases. He concludes ultimately, that we haven't learned a damn thing from the past, and this is why our current efforts to combat pandemics are so ...more
Rona Akbari
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
quick pandemics 101 with what i thought was p good critical commentary. he kind of roasts the WHO, too. i do wish there was more science involved, like scientific explanations and stuff, in the book. using this as a starter book towards other pandemic readings, i’d recommend it as such!
Barry Welsh
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars. Scary...
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, science
Fantastic overview, emphasizing that pandemics aren't solely natural events — they're conjunctions of evolution and human social and economic structures, where patterns like urbanization, poverty, coordination, and the production and dissemination of knowledge create the circumstances in which maladies new and old can arise and thrive. ...more
Erin Cook
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Medicine is racist, colonialism killed millions and we're all gonna die ...more
Mar 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting and readable introduction to pandemics - which you might've guessed from the title also. ...more
Syed Muhammad
Jun 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
It is a kind of book one should read nowadays for very obvious reason.

This book has definitely helped me a lot to understand pandemics and global health. I would say this book is a historical narrative of pandemics; nonetheless, it also covers myriad of factors which are influenced by Pandemics in the course of human history; such as, economy, society, science, and politics. Moreover, this narrative presents how humans have dealt with or dealing with pandemics. Besides, it clearly suggests that
Hank Hoeft
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent primer about seven of the worst pandemic diseases in human history: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. McMillen, taking each disease in turn, describes its effect on its victims, gives a brief history that focuses on pandemic outbreaks from its first known occurrence up to present day, and discusses "the cultural, economic, political, social, and demographic effects" as well. Also, while not doing so overtly, the book teaches a lesson ...more
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This really is a very short and very handy introduction to pandemics. I enjoyed this brief but interesting account of plague, small pox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDs. The author livened up the prose with quotes from people who lived through these infectious terrors. At 123 pages this book could easily supplement any course in disasters, history medicine, or world history. Also, it is easy to read in one sitting. I may include it next time I teach natural disasters.
Sharon C. Robideaux
Very helpful

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world, we need to arm ourselves with information. McMillen's Short Introduction is a good place to begin. Only rarely does the author lapse into technical medical jargon. For the most part, the book is accessible and concise. Its publication predates COVID-19, so I hope there will be another edition once we survive this current pandemic.
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommend

Easy read with really important lessons from past pandemics. Choosing to downplay the influenza over fear of panic? Thinking medicine has advanced to the point that no bacteria or virus can last long enough to cause worldwide devastation? Unfortunately, we are making those mistakes all over again.
Murilo Silva
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stem
An endemic is generally considered to be an unexpected, widespread rise in disease incidence at a given time. A pandemic is best thought of as a very large epidemic. Due to WHO's classification of a pandemic during the 2009 H1N1 crisis, several infectious disease specialists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came up with broad framework that a pandemic has to meet 8 criteria: wide geographic extension, disease movement, high a ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book introduces the history of seven pandemic diseases: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. Author Christian McMillen details the ways people have responded to pandemics in the past, and the general failure for hard-won knowledge to persist when the next pandemic rolls around. As I write this in 2020, we are seeing some of this sad history repeat itself with the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the Trump horror/comedy show. McMillen lamen ...more
Bojan Tunguz
Oct 05, 2020 rated it liked it
As I write this, the World is ten months or so into the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, and this Pandemic has been one of the most life-changing events for most people around the Globe. Naturally, the interest in pandemics has been insatiable, and it has helped sales of books on the topic - such as this short introduction. When I first considered buying it it was sold out on Amazon, and took months to get my own copy.

The book is a very readable historical account of the seven major global pandemics - Pl
Bernie Gourley
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book explores disease pandemics through the lens of History. I open with that because this is a topic that can (and has) been addressed through many different disciplines, and a reader expecting biological or epidemiological insights is likely to be disappointed. However, if one is interested in questions of how, where, and with what impacts various diseases spread, this book provides a concise overview of the seven selected pandemics: The Plague, Smallpox, Malaria, Cholera, Tuberculosis, I ...more
Natascha Eschweiler
Jun 10, 2021 rated it liked it
A very informative but incredibly depressing read in these times.
Gabriel Avocado
i liked this one a lot. it was written very unfortunately before the current pandemic but the warning is loud and clear: capitalism cannot handle pandemics.
Paul Waring
Jan 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
An excellent but concise book about pandemics - useful reading given the current situation (it was published a few years ago so does not cover covid specifically, but it does cover influenza). The further reading section also has a number of recommendations for specific diseases and pandemics in general.
Ok, I consider knowledge of the history of disease to be VERY important to combating the dangerous rise in vaccine hesitancy. For this reason I struggled with how to rate this.

I've previously read Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History which is much longer and covers pandemics and epidemics (the same as in here and more) in chronological order rather than by disease, and Viruses: A Very Short Introduction which includes discussions of some of the pandemic diseases caused by viru
Olatomiwa Bifarin
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Reading Pandemics VSI is akin to taking an undergraduate crash course in the history of pandemics/epidemics over ~140pages of engaging materials. Prof McMillen started off by stating a useful categorization of pandemics: pandemic as an event (comes and goes) and persistent pandemics; the 1918 flu pandemic, the plague and the small pox are examples of the former while tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS are great examples of the latter.
10 chapters were devoted to 10 major pandemics/diseases starting wit
Xiang Yang Ng
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Make no mistake, this is not a book about the medical intricacies of diseases, but rather it is a book about the historical accounts of the responses of humanity towards these diseases. I find it particularly interesting because the main lesson is that history repeats itself. What we are seeing right now as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to destroy lives and livelihoods is actually not so different from what happened in the past. Body counts piling up, rise of racism or discrimination against m ...more
Dave Reads
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When this book was written in 2016, one couldn’t imagine how a new pandemic would impact our lives. I was struck by the author’s conclusion, “For very often history is forgotten or rediscovered only when we confront contemporary epidemics and pandemics, and thus the patterns from the past are repeated thoughtlessly.”

A new edition about Covid-19 will now need to be written.

The book devotes a chapter to each one of the previous seven pandemics: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, in
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Penned by a professor in history, this short book explores the social, political, and economic aspects of the many pandemics that societies have endured - bubonic plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza and HIV/AIDS. It shows why and how ideology matters. Arrogance and naïveté are a deadly pair that engender wastefulness and inefficiency, not to mention avoidable human suffering. Perennially timely. Four stars.
جاسم كلمد
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
"This book will introduce readers to the rich history of pandemic and epidemic disease and suggest that much of the way we confront such things now has been shaped by the past. (...) For very often history is forgotten or rediscovered only when we confront contemporary epidemics and pandemics, and thus patterns from the past are repeated thoughtlessly." ...more
Nathan Taylor
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fine historical overview of pandemics

Diseases are arranged by chapter. So plague, smallpox, flu, etc. Given the current COVID-19 epidemic, a good starting point to learn which parts of the past we will revisit.

Short and well done.
Rex Libris
Feb 07, 2017 rated it liked it
The title pretty much sums it all up. A quick look at various pandemics, including the plague, cholera, influenza, TB, and HIV/AIDS. Interesting, but not for the faint of heart or hypochondriac.
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Can’t wait for the next edition.
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